CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed changes to Virginia’s policy on transgender students was not on the agenda, but it dominated over an hour of public comment at a Chesterfield School Board meeting on Tuesday night.

Parents took the podium to speak out on both sides of the issue, while the students who attended universally called on the board to reject Youngkin’s policy and asserted their right to organize walkouts in protest of it.

Whose Protest?

Board Member Ryan Harter was the only member to directly address the protests in opposition to Youngkin’s proposal, which took place at schools across Virginia on September 27.

“What I am concerned about is groups and organizations locally and even statewide that are encouraging students to take civic action during the instructional day,” Harter said. “To those encouraging students to leave class and protest, I ask you to please stop.”

He added that the walkout was a safety issue for the students and that the highly-publicized demonstrations could be a “soft target” for retaliation.

But Lucille Elliot, a student at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School, said the protests were student-lead and not organized by any outside parties.

“I — not an adult, teacher or representative — I, a student, organized my classmates in ARGS and greater Chesterfield to walk out on September 27,” Elliot said.

The Policy

While school divisions are required by state law to implement the “model policy” on transgender students — or one that’s substantially similar — there is no enforcement mechanism, and adoption of the current model policy has been spotty.

The new model policy departs from the one approved by former Governor Ralph Northam in several ways. Among the most controversial changes are a provision that would allow staff to ‘deadname’ or ‘misgender’ students, a rule banning trans students from using any bathroom but the one of their birth sex, unless a school is ordered by federal law otherwise, and a requirement that parents approve any change in the name or pronouns a student is referred to with.

Several parents at Tuesday’s meeting spoke in favor of the policy. Glen Sturtevant is a Chesterfield parent and former Republican state senator currently running for election again after his loss to Senator Ghazala Hashmi in 2019. He said the county should immediately adopt the new policy when it’s finalized.

“It’s unconscionable that the current policy of Chesterfield schools could allow teachers and school administrators to keep parents in the dark,” he said.

But Catherine Castignola, a Cosby High student, said the students deserved to have their rights protected as well.

“I had suicidal thoughts at one point because of the homophobia I experienced,” she said. “And to hear this diminished down to an issue of parents’ rights — it really hurts because we feel like we’re not being listened to as people.”

Parents and Children

Other parents spoke out more broadly against the inclusion of anything related to LGBT people in schools. One, John Ward, said a “woke librarian” with a “power-abusing, perverse grooming mind” allowed a child to check out “I Am Not a Girl,” a children’s book that features a trans protagonist.

He also objected to the school hosted a reading of “Between Us and Abuela,” a story about two immigrant children who visit the border fence to see their grandmother who still lives in Mexico.

“Stop sexualizing our children, this toxic transgender grooming of children and pushing confusion into their malleable minds is damaging to them,” Ward said. “I Am Not a Girl” does not contain any sexual content, and was based on the experience of a trans youth, who co-wrote the book.

Some parents spoke out against Youngkin’s policy as well, with one mother recounting the mental health struggles her child faced, which she believed would be exacerbated by the proposed changes.

“Two years ago I found myself in the back of an ambulance, unsure of whether my child would live or die,” Jennifer McMurty said. “One of the promises I made that night to both myself and to Alex was that I would continue to make sure Alex felt loved and supported no matter what.”